Process: Epicurean

by Tiffanie Pfrang on 10/29/2013 | 13 Minute Read

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It’s time for another look behind the design process! This time, we went behind the scenes with Design Director, Joseph Duffy to look at the redesign for Minnesota’s own Epicurean by Duffy & Partners

Epicurean is a kitchen company. What started out as mostly cutting boards has grown into all things kitchen and cooking. Epicurean is located in Duluth, Minnesota and was started by two brothers and their best friend. Epicurean was the answer to their problem of figuring out what to do with all the scraps from their skate park design and installation company, TrueRide. 

TrueRide, created by brothers Dave and Greg Benson and business partner Tony Ciardelli was about creating outdoor skateboard parks in Duluth and installing them across the country. As the amount of scrap was piling up as these parks were being created, a light-bulb came on, ‘let’s make cutting boards out of this stuff.’

Everything these guys do starts with sustainability. They push production to the limit to leave the smallest imprint on the environment. All their materials are made of post-consumer waste and of course, are made in the USA.


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Why the redesign? Why now?

Epicurean/Loll crossed paths with Duffy & Partners at a design conference. We instantly clicked and knew we should partner. A few months later, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. When Epicurean came to Duffy, they were at a crossroads. While successful, they felt the brand was lacking the personality they thought it needed; they wondered how much MORE successful they could be with the right personality and tone reflected in their brand. Proof of that personality and resulting success was found in another company they created, a furniture company called Loll, short for Lollygagger. The brilliance of Loll is that it completely fits the philosophy and personality of the founders. From their design aesthetic to their commitment to sustainability, they live in the world knowing life is too short not to have fun. This isn’t to say they aren’t serious minded businessmen; they never take themselves too seriously, which is why we loved working with them. Loll is an honest reflection of who they are, whereas Epicurean was something they thought the consumer wanted them to be (kind of that fancy schmancy gourmet aesthetic) in order to be successful.

Before & After

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How did you split up the workload? How many people do you have working on this project? How did you determine the size of the team?

For this project, we agreed on creating two design directions, which were created by two designers. The entire team was rounded out with a project manager, an account director, a creative director and the help of a production artist. We also collaborated with their internal creative team led by Jesse Michels, which was great as he and his team took our direction and very quickly worked it into prototypes. It was amazing how fast they were able to show us samples.

How do you normally manage a project like this?

We like to keep things as simple and straightforward as possible at Duffy. We kept our team small, so everyone was involved from start to finish. It’s easy to bring people in for help when we need it, but we consider ourselves a collection of leaders and try to make decisions and be agile while honing and crafting to the final solution.

What was the time line for the project?

Our process from start to finish, depending on the scope of course, typically takes around five or six months. We have no interest in taking more time than we need on any given project. We want it in the marketplace doing its job.

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What was the research and design process like?

For all projects, we dig into the category to review the competition, while also drawing analogies outside the category. In this case, the competition had little to no brand expression. They were either doing something similar or trying to knock off Epicurean, who in turn, were imitating category design norms. As leaders, it was time to break out of the paradigms and create a more meaningful brand.

Were you able to do the traditional approach going from type, logo, color, then to different deliverables, since there’s so many pieces all together?

Our process is rather straightforward. We immersed ourselves into their Duluth operation and got a great sense for their company culture. It’s always best to see and hear it all first-hand. Dave, Greg and Tony really made us feel a part of their family. 

Duluth, MN 

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We also interviewed various stakeholders throughout the organization. We synthesized all of these insights and presented it as our phase one findings, which articulated a visual and verbal brief. The visual brief was a compilation of images that became a blueprint for our design team. We explored all sorts of visual imagery to help imagine and define all the possibilities for Epicurean. Everything from elements such as photography, textures, typography, color palette, and iconography were included.

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How many different directions did you end up showing the client?

For this project, we showed two design directions. One direction was connected to their sister company, Loll’s brand expression, and the other direction was a bit more of a departure. In the end, we took a few pieces of each and created a third direction, which is the design solution you’ll find in the marketplace today.

We also identified a need to explain the company beyond just cutting surfaces. We developed the tagline “Epicurean. Heart of the Kitchen,” providing a more emotional connection to the brand.

Direction I 

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Direction II

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How many different products are there in the Epicurean Brand?

Currently, Epicurean has hundreds of products and we predict many more in the future. One of our challenges was organizing these products so consumers could better navigate the entire portfolio. The variety of the offering was lost in a sea of meaningless descriptors. It was important we made clear distinctions from one product category to the next. Prior to our involvement, when a product was created, a new series was created. Eventually, the number of series became endless and confusing.

Are there any new products introduced in this new design? What was the process like creating the packaging for all these products? (Can we see the different stages?)

We simplified their offering into very basic categories denoted by color and then added different symbols, icons and patterns that would give meaning to each category. Today there is the Kitchen Series, Commercial Series and Camp Series.

What is the substrate used for the packaging/s? Why this particular material? I noticed that there weren’t really changes in the structure of the packaging from before and after, what was the decision process behind that and why?

As far as packaging substrates, Epicurean had done a lot of R&D on what materials worked best on their products. For example, what was the best label material and what label adhesive wouldn’t leave residue on the products once removed.



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Promotional Pieces 

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What was the experience working with Epicurean? How many people were involved in the decision making on their end? What was the take away from working on this project? 

We can’t say enough great things about the products that Epicurean creates and the people that create them. They were a joy to work with. Down to earth, humble, fun and we so admired their passion in making a difference when it comes to the environment. I can wholeheartedly refer to these guys not as clients, but as friends. Each meeting was fun, collaborative and full of mutual respect. When an idea was raised, we all chimed in to try and make it better. The work in the end is something we are very proud of and the feedback from the marketplace has been well received. It was honestly one of the most comfortable working relationships I have experienced to date.

Responses by Jesse Michels, Art Director at Epicurean Cutting Surfaces

What was the experience working with Duffy & Partners?

Our experience with Duffy & Partners was similar to Luke learning about The Force from Yoda. Although instead of a hut, it was an amazing studio with a view. Duffy & Partners not only provided an excellent brand strategy, but also a process that was simple but strategic. Working with Duffy & Partners was like working with a group of friends that are able to see you from an outside perspective. Like a psychologist, they were able to probe our heart and build from there.

What was the take away?

Working with Duffy & Partners, we were able to take away not only a fresh new design direction, but also a more solid definition of what we do and why we do it.

I would like to add that although Duffy & Partners are on top of their game, you still look up at a lot of smiles and not noses. They still remain approachable, honest and open.

Special Thanks to Joseph Duffy, Design Director of Duffy & Partners  and Jesse Michels, Art Director at Epicurean Cutting Surfaces


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